Note: The following is the full version of my interview with Travis Weaver, who performed as Wayne the Wizard in Fort Wayne while employed with the Fort Wayne Wizards. Photos are courtesy of the Fort Wayne Wizards.
His first appearance as Wayne the Wizard wasnâ€™t on a ball diamond. It was a two-hour gig at a skating rink. Travis Weaver, who performed as the now semi-retired, venerable sorcerer-mascot of the Fort Wayne Wizards from April 1996 to August 1998, struggled with a â€œlarge zip-up barrel type contraption that made me look like I was around 100 lbs heavier.â€ It was one of the first times he had donned the gear and â€œit took me a long, long time to get it on at the rink.â€
â€œI had no idea what to do for the 2 hours,â€ says Weaver. â€œI pretty much gave out high fives and dodged out-of-control skaters the whole time.â€
Travis recently answered several questions about his experiences as â€œthe dancingâ€ Wayne the Wizard. Among his most memorable moments, Travis opened up about interacting with players and coaches, season ticket holders who â€œcheered every time I did Cotton Eyed Joe even though they had seen it 200 times before,â€ fans who may have had one too many and the verbal poundings he took from players for never (well, almost never) being able to win the mascot race despite the head start.
He also commented on the Harrison Square project: â€œI didnâ€™t know there was anything really wrong with Memorial Stadium, but I totally get what they are trying to do.â€
Weaver now lives and works in Texas about as far from being a mascot as one could get and he hasnâ€™t made it back to the Memorial Stadium since leaving his post, but does hope to do so during a future visit to Fort Wayne if his schedule allows.
â€œI started to really loosen up after the first few games and started interacting more with the fans.â€ Once he discontinued the use of the â€œzip-up barrel contraptionâ€ things got even more natural when he performed.
What were you favorite on-field promotions/events to participate in?
â€œI liked the race where I started on second [base] and the kid started at home . . . I could only walk and the kid could run. I would get razzed a lot by the players. Things like â€˜how are you gonna let a five-year-old punk you in front of all these people like that?â€ and â€˜If that were me, Iâ€™d never loseâ€™.
“I decided for one of my last games, I would finally win. [Before the game] I worked it out with the umpire that â€¦ there would be an appeal to third and he was to call me out. I also worked it out with the catcher and third baseman to do a mock appeal as well. So while Iâ€™m on the field doing other promotions, Iâ€™m working my â€˜victoryâ€™ behind the scenes with the players and the ump. The hardest part for me was to tell the boy racing that no matter what happens; he is going to win and for him to keep running the whole time.
â€œTo really make it look good, I went into the clubhouse before the game and started talking all sorts of trash . . . how Iâ€™m sick of losing that race and Iâ€™m gonna win today and I donâ€™t care what the management says. They were all blowing me off, but I wanted them to believe that when I touched home plate first, that I really followed through on my trash talking.
â€œWhen the race starts, I start walking normally until I get a few feet from third base. Remember, Iâ€™m supposed to MISS third. I turn around to start taunting the kid and I step right on the base. Obviously, we couldnâ€™t start the race over, so I just kept going. Many times I would lose because I trip on my way to home plate, the Diamond Girl would slap me, I would â€œget lostâ€ and forget where home was.
â€œWell, the boy was a few feet behind me when I reached the batterâ€™s box and I turned to him and tried my best to act like a bad guy from professional wrestling by having him get closer and closer and then BOOM! I stepped on home plate a step before he did.
â€œI thought I would get some laughs and a couple boos, but my goodness! I was soundly booed by everybody but the Wizards players. They came out of the dugout to congratulate me like I just won the Boston Marathon. They were very pumped for me, as the crowd is about to litter the field with debris and turn over some cars. The PA announcer, Jim Amstutz was just as floored. Heâ€™s a good guy and would rib me just as bad as the players would, so when I won the race, he was literally shocked. After they did the appeal to third and I was called out, everybody realized that the whole thing was put on and got a big laugh.â€
Which players were your favorite/most memorable?
â€œMost of the players I enjoyed didnâ€™t make it to the majors. Jake Patterson, Antuan Bunkley, Josh Gandy, Matt Carnes, and Mike Cosgrove are some guys that immediately come to mind. Former hitting coach, Riccardo Ingram may be the funniest human alive. I got to know the pitchers a lot more than the positional players, because they have more time to talk during the game and in the clubhouse before the game. Jake had the build and mannerisms of a pro wrestler, and Bunk pulled off one of the funniest R-rated pranks I have ever seen in my entire life.
How was it to interact with the Fort Wayne fans . . . any memories that stand out?
â€œI thought the fans were great. Even the season ticket holders that cheered every time I did Cotton Eyed Joe even though they had seen it 200 times before. The kids were great tooâ€¦even the ones that were a little too overanxious and rambunctious and wanted to see what the real Wayne looked like. I always had fun playing with the inebriated fans that had thrown back about six cool ones by the third inning. I would act like I was doing a field sobriety test and they thought it was funny because I was paying them attention, all the while the rest of the fans in the section were getting a kick out of me clowning on the guy that forgot to say when.
â€œI can still do the Wayne the Wizard autograph in my sleep. I should have been sponsored by Sharpie with the number of baseballs, bats, shirts, seat cushions, Frisbees, foreheads, hands, arms, shoes, baseball cards, casts, etc. I signed over the years.â€
Have you attended any recent Wizards games or any minor league baseball where you live now?
â€œEvery once in a while. There is a minor league team close to my home and I try to catch a game whenever I can. I have not attended one Wizards game since I left – not that Iâ€™m opposed to it, I just have never been able to work it out when I come into Fort Wayne to visit.â€
I am sure you have heard about the Harrison Square and downtown Ballpark project . . . any thoughts?
â€œI didnâ€™t know there was anything really wrong with Memorial Stadium, but I totally get what they are trying to do. Itâ€™s worked to revitalize the downtown areas of other cities, so Iâ€™m hopeful it works in Fort Wayne too. I just hope they find something to do with Memorial Stadium and it doesnâ€™t sit vacant for years, or worse . . . they need to tear it down.â€
Does it disappoint you that Dinger has taken the spotlight away from Wayne the Wizard? Would you like to see Wayne more often?
â€œOn the contraryâ€¦to me, Wayne was retired, or put into semi-retirement after I moved. I know that when I left at the end of the 1998 season, they put somebody in the suit . . . and Dinger was â€œbornâ€ the following season. I took that as a compliment.â€
What are you doing today?
â€œSurprisingly, I donâ€™t do anything remotely close to mascotting. I work in the corporate environment managing inventories of bank and financial institutions. Although being Wayne the Wizard has nothing to do with my current job, it is always good to share stories at work of being a pro mascot, meeting Jeff Gordon and Pete Rose when they came to the stadium, getting to know players [who are] in the big leagues right now ([A.J] Pierzynski, [Luis] Rivas, [Juan] Rincon, [Michael] Cuddyer, [Matt] LeCroy, etc.), and the funny stories that go along with being a 7 Â½ foot tall dancing mascot (blind spot accidents, wardrobe malfunctions, depth perception issues inside the mask, etc.).â€
A BIG THANK YOU to Travis for his time and willingness to answer a few questions.
[tags]Wayne the Wizard, Baseball in Fort Wayne, Fort Wayne Wizards, Travis Weaver, Mascots, Minor League Baseball[/tags]